So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

On Wine Pt. 3

In the final part of this discussion on wine service, let’s discuss pouring.

When pouring wine, it’s important not to pour the whole bottle, even if you’re pouring 6 glasses. You always want to leave a little in the bottle, so you need to get an idea of how much to pour depending on how many glasses you have to pour on the first round. You’re trying to send the signal to the guests that you aren’t trying to force another bottle on them.

A standard sized bottle will yield four 6 oz glasses. Once you learn how much 6 oz is in your house glasses, you’ll be able to calibrate your pours better. If you have 4 glasses to pour, then you should only pour around 4 oz in each glass. If you have 6 glasses, then you should shoot for around 3 oz. If you have more than 6 glasses, you should recommend to the host that you bring a second bottle. If you bring the second bottle, ask the host if they’d like for you to let them test the bottle. Most will say “Just pour it”, but technically each bottle should be tested. In the case of two bottles, I like  to try to pour equal glasses until the bottle runs out and then start with the next bottle. I try not to mix bottles in a single glass. In the case of bringing a second bottle later, I don’t worry about it and I’ll pour into a glass holding wine from the first bottle. Every so often, you’ll get a guest who insists on a fresh glass when a new bottle of the same wine is brought. Obviously, you’ll comply.

One complication is that you don’t always know how many people will be drinking wine, so you should always pour as if everyone is drinking. The worst thing that you can do is run out of wine before everyone is served. You don’t want the host to feel that he or she is being forced to buy a second bottle, so, if you have to only pour 2 oz in each glass, so be it. If the host didn’t want you to bring a second bottle, it’s on them if their guests only get 2 oz of wine.

When free pouring wine for a party, try not to pour a full 6 oz pour. I shoot for around 4 to 5 oz. Believe it or not, you’ll end up pouring more wine that way because people will need their glasses refilled more often. Some people tend to nurse their wine out of habit, even when they’re not paying for it. It’s better to let them need more wine sooner by not pouring as much initially. And, of course, the more wine you pour, the more wine you sell (unless the number of bottles has been limited). It means more work to keep refilling, but it also means a larger check and presumably a larger tip.

One thing you don’t want though is a lot of half-full glasses on the table at the end of the meal. The host will feel like you’ve deliberately overpoured in order to stick them with a higher bill. So, once the entree is served, you should stop automatically refilling glasses unless they are very low. By the middle of the entree, only pour if a glass is empty or if someone requests it. The idea is to sell the absolute most wine you can but also the exact amount of wine that the party needs. It’s not a big deal if a couple of glasses are half full, but if most of the glasses are left half-full at the end of the meal, you’re sending the message to the host that you’re trying to gouge them.  Let’s say you have a party of 45 people and there are 24 glasses that are half full at the end. That’s the equivalent of 3 full bottles of wine that the host paid for but wasn’t drunk. When a guest can trust that they won’t be paying for things that they don’t consume, they will be loyal customers, and that repeat business is what you are shooting for.

Finally, as always, house policies trump any advice that I give here.

In the next installment, we’ll talk about selling wine.

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